I've never been hit by such a paranoid sense of "I don't know what I'm talking about" than when I decided to put this list together. And so, research, research, research. I've spent weeks poring over galleries, reading up on artists, and second guessing whether I really liked a poster, or if I was just impressed by a poster, or maybe just nostalgic or familiar with a poster. I started out knowing the names of exactly three film poster artists: John Alvin, Saul Bass, and Drew Struzan, and wound up picking none of their works for the final list. Heck, none of the movie posters currently hanging in my house made the list (which makes me think it's time to redecorate).
The volume of material was so vast, I did make some effort to include pieces representative of different eras and from several different artists, but let my own particular tastes dictate specific pieces. You can tell that the '70s and '80s were my favorites. Entries are unranked and ordered by date below:
"Fantomas" (Gino Starace) - For more than a few of these entries, I was entranced with the posters long before I became familiar with the films. So it was with the master criminal Fantomas, an early figure of French cinema, seen here looming over Paris in his domino mask and tuxedo. The poster image was taken almost unaltered from the original "Fantomas" novel cover, except the dagger in his hand was removed, signaling that the film serial would be less lurid than the books.
"Metropolis" (Heinz Schulz-Neudamm) - That Art Deco typography! Those Futurist buildings! The angles, the lights, the robot woman! "Metropolis" isn't my favorite of Fritz Lang's films, but the imagery is so powerfully evocative of the cinema of the 1920s - of the whole era, really. What film fan could resist? An original German one-sheet notoriously sold at auction for $1.2 million in 2012, making this easily one of the most expensive movie posters in existence, as well as one of the most iconic.
"Gilda" (Unknown Artist) - If I'm going to have a poster featuring a screen siren, it's got to be Rita Hayworth. Hayworth posters have popped up in film many times over the years, most notably in "Bicycle Thieves" and "The Shawshank Redemption." There are many, many different "Gilda" posters, and it was a close race between this version and the more famous theatrical release poster that declares "There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!" But here she's smiling, and that makes all the difference.
"The Exorcist" (Bill Gold) - Now we're jumping ahead past several decades and several graphic design eras to the '70s. There are a wealth of great horror movie posters, but the amazingly subtle, atmospheric black-and-white image of the priest arriving at a suburban house on "The Exorcist" poster remains one of the most indelible of the genre. Bill Gold is one of the unsung masters of movie poster design, with a staggering seven decade career, and I think this may be the best thing he ever did.
"Chinatown" (Jim Pearsall) - I wanted a good noir poster, and somehow 1974's "Chinatown" was the one I couldn't say no to. I love everything - the silhouette, the line work, the coloring and the imagery. The elements are clearly reminiscent of the classic noir of the '40s, but the style of the illustration is much more common of the '70s. The one major flaw is that the poster isn't very representative of the movie itself, but rather seems to portray the kind of romantic notion of being a private eye the film was keen to dispel.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" 1982 rerelease (Richard Amsel) - Of all the artists I discovered while researching posters, Richard Amsel is my favorite. There are so many of his posters that I remember fondly, and so many that still make me light up. Amsel draws faces, and captures personalities on paper like nobody else. There were too may good options here, but I had to go with his second - and most famous - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" theatrical poster. Other artists' Indy posters are wonderful, but Amsel's are essential.
"Amadeus" (Peter Sís) - This looks a bit like the "Fantomas" poster, doesn't it? The image of the masked Commendatore from "Don Giovanni" is one of the earliest I remember from any movie poster. I love the ominous, mysterious tone this massive, dark figure sets, and the sweeping theatricality of the poster design that serves as a nice prelude to the film's legendary art direction. And it was such a wonderful realization, the day I spotted the tiny Queen of the Night at the center of the sunburst pattern.
"Brazil" (Unknown Artist) - The winged warrior escaping from the filing cabinet is the far more popular image associated with Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," but I distinctly remember finding the VHS cassette for the movie at my local Blockbuster sporting this poster as its cover art, and nearly whooped out loud in the store. I just fell in love with the image instantaneously, never mind that it was promoting a film. I regret I've never been able to identify the artist, which is a far too common problem with many of these posters.
"V for Vendetta" (Concept Arts) - And now we enter the Photoshop era, wherein poster art did not die an inglorious death, but it became a lot tougher to find interesting pieces. Lots of good work came out of the 'V for Vendetta" campaign, with its heavy Soviet propaganda influences. The limited color palette and tilted axes really help the promos stand out from the crowd. I like this poster in particular because it also hearkens back to "Vendetta's" graphic novel roots, though the style is quite different.
John Carter (J. C. Richard) - The alternate poster trend has brought a welcome infusion of talent and interest to the movie poster world. One of my recent favorites is this poster for the deeply flawed "John Carter" movie, created by Mondo, which was only distributed via a free giveaway for certain midnight premieres. With barely any text or even a credit block, this looks like a piece of concept artwork. It's also a complete and very welcome departure from the rest of the film's much-criticized marketing materials.
Honorable mentions: "The Kid" (Unknown Artist), "Le Million" (Jean-Adrien Mercier), "Gone With the Wind" (Tom Jung / Howard Terpning), "The Forbidden Planet" (Unknown Artist), "Joe Kidd" (BIll Gold), "The Sting" (Richard Amsel), "Return to Oz" teaser (Drew Struzan), "Star Wars" 1997 rerelease (Drew Struzan), "Where the Wild Things Are" (P+A / Mojo), The Informant (Kellerhouse, Inc.)